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Alberta startup uses cancer’s instability against itself

Patrick Wu is a Life Science Marketing Consultant based in Alberta. As we prepare to head to the annual BIO Convention, Patrick has prepared a couple of profiles of Alberta companies which will be at BIO in Philadelphia showcasing their products, and meeting with potential partners and investors.

Let's not sugarcoat it: cancer sucks. We all know somebody that cancer has affected somehow. Fortunately, another tool might be coming on the market to help with the battle against cancer, from right here in Alberta.

A New Strategy

Pacylex Pharmaceuticals Inc. is an Edmonton-based cancer therapeutics startup. Their platform exploits something about cancer cells that researchers only recently discovered.
It's based on enzymes called N-myristoyltransferases (NMTs), which switch particular proteins on and off through a process known as myristoylation. Two of these NMTs—aptly named NMT1 and NMT2—are important for controlling how cells grow and divide properly. If these two proteins stop working, the cell will self-destruct in a process called apoptosis.
For many types of cancer, it turns out that one of these two NMTs don't work, leaving the other one to pick up the slack. The cell doesn't self-destruct because there's enough NMT activity to keep it above the threshold. But the cell's growth is uncontrolled, which is one of the traits that makes cancer—well—cancerous.
Pacylex's main drug candidate, PCLX-001, works by tuning down the activities of both NMTs slightly.
"Slightly" is the keyword here. Healthy cells will spread the burden across both functional NMTs and both proteins stay above the threshold. Cancer cells, however, are hit harder because there's only one NMT doing all the work. The one working NMT is inhibited enough that the cancer cell will self-destruct.
It's an elegant strategy that works for 19 different types of cancer, ranging from blood cancers like leukemia to solid tumours. The best part is that this is a completely new mechanism, which means it can supplement existing chemotherapy treatments.

What's Next?

Despite being somewhat early-stage, Pacylex has already started capturing people's interest. The goal is to file their IND application by the end of this year and start their first clinical trials in early 2020. They hope to find new funding and partnerships at this year's BIO International Convention in Philadelphia.
It's an exciting time for cancer therapy, and I hope we will see some good things happening from this company soon!

Alberta startup uses cancer’s instability against itself

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